Friday, 7 September 2018

Short Story 23 : The Last Foxglove.

The Butterfly Effect

The butterfly effect is the idea that small things can have non-linear impacts on a complex system. The concept is imagined with a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a typhoon.

Of course, a single act like the butterfly flapping its wings cannot cause a typhoon. Small events, can however, serve as catalysts that act on starting conditions.

The things that change the world, according to chaos theory, are the tiny things. A butterfly flaps it’s wings in the Amazonian jungle, and  subsequently a storm ravages half of Europe – Good omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
- Benjamin Franklin’s variation.

This story is an attempt to create the butterfly effect, where a small, seemingly unimportant event triggers a catastrophe of great magnitude.


The Last Foxglove.

The flower was mesmerizing. Radha stared at it, spellbound. How had she never noticed this one before? She knew all the flowers grown in this nursery, didn’t she? She must have missed seeing it, because she never passed this side of the garden on the other days.
It was unlike any other she had seen.  It was a long flower, the petals formed a neat little groove around each other, to close into a long hollow, exactly like a bell. The petals were a bright yellow. They reminded her of the Kancheevaram saree that her aunt Savitri had worn to Anna’s wedding last year. It had looked ghastly on her aunt but looked gorgeous on this bloom. She had not noticed this particular flower earlier. It was dotted with bright orange, with streaks of harsh pink along the insides of the bell. Yes, this was a new one indeed. She wondered what it was called.
All the other blooms along the stalk were gone, somehow. Only this one remained.
Could she pluck it? Radha looked around carefully. She knew that the lanky security man would be stationed around the garden at this time. But he was nowhere to be seen now. She glanced at her watch. It was 1.57 PM. He must have gone for lunch as he did, sometimes. He would usually be back long before 2PM. Today was her lucky day.
Radha reached for the flower, stretching her hand carefully over the prickly fence that had been erected around the shrub. She dug her long nails deep into the stalk, already imagining the joyful expression on Amma’s face when she saw this bell flower.
Besides, tomorrow was Thursday. Amma would be happy to decorate the white foot- long marble idol in their puja room with this flower. Radha smiled to herself, as she placed the flower gently in her handbag. A tiny wisp of apprehension sliced through her mind. She could lose her job for this, if she was caught with the bloom.
Radha knew the rules. It was strictly forbidden to pluck flowers, leaves or anything else from the garden of the institute. Radha began to walk a little faster towards the nursery gate. Well, she had been slogging for a whole nine months as the stenographer at this place, hadn’t she? Surely she was entitled to pluck a small bloom once in a while?
Besides, Baba loved yellow flowers, didn’t he? She was doing this for Sai Baba, her favourite deity. All sins would be forgiven. She envisioned the snow white Baba, with the yellow flower on his head and smiled again, as she slipped out of the garden gate of her office premises, into the long pathway that would take her past he main building  and finally lead to the main exit of the Institute of Herbal Medicine & Research Laboratories.


Damn! It was late! Joel glanced at his watch and swore under his breath. 1.58 PM.
Why was there so much traffic at this time of the day? Those bloody ambulances, they had come out of nowhere onto the main street, three of them no less, one behind the other, their sirens blaring as they whizzed past the traffic lights. The traffic had come to a standstill what with all the vehicles and people scrambling hither-dither out of the way. He was only two furlongs away from the institute but the signal had turned red. 
The ambulances were no doubt headed to the Falcon hospital five blocks down the main street from the institute. He was supposed to have been at his post at least ten minutes ago. No one would miss him, he knew. After all, he was the chief of security for the nursery premises of the IHMRL.
But then, he knew that he couldn’t afford to go slack on his job, especially since Shaji Sir had given out the special instructions, two weeks ago.
Joel honked angrily when a cyclist crossed his path and he had to slow down just when the signal turned green.  Two minutes later, Joel parked his bike in his parking slot and hurried over to the garden to check on the flower.
He reached the garden gate, already noticing the absence of the bright yellow speck that would have been visible from this point. Panic made him break into a run as he recalled Shaji sir’s specific order to keep this particular flower safe, although Joel didn’t know why. He reached the shrub and stood panting with his palms on his knees, as he gaped at it, unable to believe his eyes. All that stood there was a sorry-looking green stalk, with its end rudely gnawed off, hairy green strands still hanging haphazardly around the leaves.
The foxglove was gone.


Three more patients! Dr.Dhruv Ramani replaced the receiver of his landline slowly into its cradle, his hand shaking slightly.
How had this happened? He'd heard the wailing ambulances as they passed the institute a while ago.  How had he let this happen? He wiped his forehead with his pristine white hanky and absently examined the wet droplets of sweat that dotted the starched cotton.
Sixteen people were already dead. All of them were suspected to have succumbed to the same reaction. And the chief doctor had called him at once, as soon as the ambulances had reached the emergency ward of the Falcon. He would call Dhruv, of course. After all, he enjoyed a sizeable percentage of the profits that came in with the sale of the drug from Dhruv’s pharma company, didn’t he?
But now the bastard had decided to grow a conscience all of a sudden and was trying to wash his hands off the matter. Where had this conscience been when he had agreed to prescribe medicines exclusively produced by the institute and marketed by Asha Pharma? Dhruv was one of the sleeping partners of Asha pharmaceuticals and had a spotless business reputation. Until now.
Now, everything they'd worked for, was in jeopardy.
All because of a drug - Digipure.
A wonder remedy made from a type of Digoxin extracted from the yellow foxglove flower, the Digitalis Grandiflora.
A miracle medicine that arrested the congestive heart failure and congenital heart disease in patients with weak hearts, by relieving the fluid retention in irregular heartbeats.
DigiPure. It had been a dream come true for Dhruv, when Asha Pharmaceuticals, which he'd registered under his wife’s name, was the first to harness the amazing curative properties of a combination of digoxin extracted from the foxglove flower at IHMRL laboratory. They'd been the first to manufacture and market the phenomenal medicine across the city.
Soon after Asha Pharma hastened to patent the combination, the medicine was released into the market with great aplomb. The results were remarkable in treating patients with history of heart attacks and the sales had shot up, so much so that Dhruv managed to secure exclusive marketing contracts with 14 hospitals in the city. Thousands of heart patients had been saved because of DigiPure.
But then, no one had foreseen the side effects that manifested themselves, only one year after the patients were administered the drug. 97% of them suffered a condition that caused a series of contractions in the cardiac muscle that ultimately led to the Sudden Death Syndrome in regular users of DigiPure.
 Thankfully, Shaji’s team managed to isolate a new kind of Digoxin, from a particular hybrid variety of foxgloves, which were multicolored, and peppered with a deep shade of pink within their bells. They’d been grown as a result of random grafting, right within the nursery of the IHMRL by the gardeners and the research team stumbled upon their unique qualities quite by accident. The animal testing, and consequent testing on a few patients, disclosed that the new elements nullified the deadly side-effects of DigiPure, within two-three weeks of administering it. The patent was through as well and the drug could be manufactured in bulk and would be released under a new name shortly.
There was just one problem, though. The morons at the lab had used up all the samples of the new hybrid flowers to research the digoxin. And now, they were left with one, just one flower in their campus.
Fortunately, Shaji had assured him that they would be able to extract a considerable amount of digoxin to salvage the situation for another month or so. New hybrid saplings were already been planted and there was hope of yielding a good harvest by the end of the year. They could still produce a sizeable quantity from that single bloom for a fresh batch and release them to the hospitals that had administered DigiPure to their patients.
Dhruv sighed heavily and picked up the phone to summon Shaji to his cabin.


‘It is gone!’ Dr.Shaji wailed.
Dhruv stared at him, shell-shocked. Gone? How could it be gone?
‘The foxglove is gone, Dhruv! Gone from the nursery.’ He began to weep again and sobbed, ‘It only needed another day to bloom completely for us to extract the digoxin…but now…’
Shaji let unabashed tears flow down his plump cheeks, and blew his nose noisily into a large red wrinkled hanky. For a brilliant scientist with double doctorate degrees under his belt, Dr. Shaji was a hyper emotional wreck, even under normal circumstances. And this was a catastrophe.
Dhruv felt his head reeling and clutched the edges of his desk with his hands.
‘But it was there this morning…I saw it on my way in…’ he croaked.
‘That asshole of a security left the flower unattended and went for lunch. Lunch, can u believe it?’ Shaji’s eyes flashed with rage.
Dhruv groaned inwardly. His stomach clenched at the thought of the enormity of losing the only source of salvaging the situation. Why hadn’t he arranged for more security for that goddamned flower? But then, this had never happened before. Never in the history of the institute had they ever lost any specimen of flower, leaf or even a seed from the premises.
He watched Shaji move his sizeable bulk over to the chaise lounge. The furniture groaned pitifully as his immense mass sank into its depths.
‘Finished. We are finished now.’ Shaji blew his nose again, in-between incessant sobbing. He wiped his eyes with the red hanky that he’d just blown his nose with.
Dhruv had ceased to feel any disgust towards Shaji’s mannerisms, ions ago. He was used to Shaji’s dire lack of finesse or hygiene outside his laboratory, in all the years of working with him.
How had this happened at this crucial time? Had his competitors gotten wind of the research and stolen the specimen? It was highly unlikely. They had taken extraordinary care to ensure that no one knew about the current research his team was working on…but then, could he have a mole within his own team?
A knock sounded on the door and Joel entered, looking scared out of his wits, but trying to appear brave. Dhruv had never seen him so disheveled and downcast since he’d hired him four years ago.
‘It was the stenographer, sir,’ his voice faltered. ‘I glimpsed her hurrying out of the garden gate and caught up with her before she left the compound.’
Ridiculous! A mere stenographer had betrayed his secrets to the enemy? But then, it wasn’t ridiculous at all. In fact, it was brilliant. No one would have suspected a lowly employee, a woman at that… It was possible. If only they could get her to spill the beans about who she was working for…
‘But she had nothing on her, sir. The female staff has frisked her three times over.’ Joel gained confidence from the sound of his own voice. ‘She claims to have plucked the flower as an offering to God, but says she threw it away somewhere near this very place…we looked everywhere she indicated, sir…our security is still searching the entire grounds…’
‘We can’t even sue her, Dhruv…’ Shahi cried in agony, from his perch on the creaking seating. ‘She only plucked a flower. We can’t let out the secret that the specimen is a storehouse of path-breaking research and invention...’
‘It was because of those ambulances that I was too late to stop her from plucking it, sir…’, Joel voice trailed off.

What would they do now?
One foxglove. Just one last foxglove.

‘A girl plucked a flower and hundreds are going to die…’ Shaji’s prediction of doom echoed around the room in the still silence.


‘Dhruv!’ Asha’s voice pierced into his consciousness. ‘How disgusting! Wake up, Dhruv!’
He groaned and opened his eyelids, only to shut them again as a shaft of light sent slivers of pain shooting into his pupils and straight onto his skull.
He recognized the hangover for what it was and tried to tune out Asha’s voice from his hazy mind.
‘You didn’t even remove your shoes, Dhruv!’ She moved around the room, drawing the blinds, dusting the bedcovers around him and tugging the sheets from under his deadbeat form. ‘Couldn’t you have gotten out of your suit and shoes before tumbling into bed?’
Dhruv pulled himself out of the King sized cot and sidled over towards the washroom. He was going to be sick again. When had he finally returned home last night? 1 AM? He couldn’t be sure. He recalled plopping into bed, in the semi-darkness, next to Asha’s supine form…
He vaguely remembered parking his Audi in the garage, because the driver had left for home after waiting for him till 11 PM last night. How had he even driven himself home from the institute? It was only ten minutes away from his bungalow when the traffic was light, but then…what a miracle he was still alive, given his state of mind, he thought, just before he threw up violently into the basin.
‘You know how much I hate it, when you do this on Thursday mornings, Dhruv…’ Asha continued her rant, raising her voice to make herself heard above the din of his torment. ‘Especially when we have our weekly SaiBaba puja too…’
Dhruv heaved again, coughing out the remnants of last night’s distress-binge.
‘You barely notice the trouble I take over the decorations,’ Asha continued. ‘And what is that bell-like flower I found on the top of your car, Dhruv? It’s so cute, a perfect yellow too, the maid found it when she went to sweep the garage this morning and brought it in because it is so pretty…’ she almost smiled as she turned towards the washroom, only to face the door, which had been shut firmly on her face. She heard the sound of running water and realized that Dhruv had long since begun his shower.
        Asha sighed and left the bedroom. She headed to the kitchen and placed some kheer into a silver bowl for the ritual offering. She entered the puja room and placed the kheer in front of the idol. She smiled benignly, as she rearranged the soft yellow-orange petals of the bell on Sai Baba’s head and proceeded to open her prayer books to begin her chants.

Image : Google

No comments:

Post a Comment